This article was originally published on Beaumontenterprise.com on Nov. 18, 2022.
Photo made Monday, December 20, 2021 Kim Brent/The Enterprise
Written by: Celia Cole, CEO of Feeding Texas, and Harvey Zernial President and CEO of Southeast Texas Food Bank
Finding common ground may be hard these days, but we can all agree that our grocery bills are higher than ever. For families on a tight budget, this may mean going without a holiday meal this season. Or worse, families may be forced to choose between food and turning on the heat, or paying for other necessities.
That’s something else we can agree on: Food should not be an impossible choice.
Sadly, it is. For families with limited income, inflation is making it even harder to afford food, put gas in the car, and make rent.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, inflation has grown by 7.7% nationally over the past year, and food prices at the grocery store are up about 13%, according to the USDA.
As a result, food banks across the state are experiencing a surge in the number of Texans seeking emergency food assistance. The Southeast Texas Food Bank currently helps 12,000 families each month, providing approximately 90,000 meals monthly through a network of 100 nonprofit agencies and 46 schools across eight counties.
Inflation is also putting the squeeze on Texas food banks, reducing their purchasing power and making it more expensive to feed hungry families. The 21 food banks in the Feeding Texas network are responding as best they can to increased demand, but more support is needed to meet the growing need in our communities.
Fighting hunger requires a public-private partnership and we need the Texas Legislature at the table. That’s why the Feeding Texas network is advocating for hunger solutions at the statewide level in the upcoming legislative session.
For starters, Feeding Texas is calling on state lawmakers to increase funding for the Surplus Agricultural Products Grant, a program that helps food banks rescue surplus or unsellable produce from farmers to provide nutritious food for their communities.
This program is a partnership between Feeding Texas and the Texas Department of Agriculture. In addition to feeding hungry Texans, the funds offset losses for Texas growers and mitigate the impact of food waste on the environment.
Increasing the funding for this grant would especially benefit rural communities. Most of the communities served by the Southeast Texas Food Bank are classified as “food deserts,” where residents do not have easy access to nutritious foods – sometimes needing to travel 15 or more miles to their nearest grocery store. Increasing access to fresh produce in these areas is key to preventing diet-related illness and improving health outcomes.
The legislature will also have the opportunity this session to better leverage federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits to help Texans with their grocery bills. SNAP is the most effective tool in the anti-hunger toolbox; when targeted appropriately it can also boost academic and employment outcomes for low-income Texans.
Hunger is not a new phenomenon, for sure. About 1 in 5 Texas children and 1 in 8 Texans overall face the threat of hunger. In the eight counties served by the Southeast Texas Food Bank, the rate of food insecurity is even higher; in fact, at 18%, it is the second highest in the nation, according to Feeding America. Among children, it’s worse, with nearly 30% of children facing the threat of hunger.
Although hunger hits some communities harder than others, its impacts are felt everywhere—from small, rural communities to major metropolitan areas, from ranching and farming hubs to technology meccas and industrial border towns.
Not only does hunger keep Texans from thriving, it also costs our state $44 Billion annually in increased education, healthcare costs and lost productivity. Smart policy choices and investments like the Surplus Ag Grant can help prevent hunger today, while boosting our economic competitiveness and resilience over time.
As we enter the season of giving, the best gift lawmakers can give Texans is peace of mind that they will be able to feed their families and hope for a brighter future.
Feeding Texas leads a unified effort for a hunger-free Texas with 21 member banks across the state. Learn more and find your local food bank at www.feedingtexas.org.
The Southeast Texas Food Bank is based in Beaumont and serves the counties of Jefferson, Orange, Hardin, Jasper, Newton, Polk, Sabine, and Tyler. Learn more at setxfoodbank.org.